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The All-Saban Underappreciated Team: The Kickers

#CollegeKickers...are allowed to miss kicks and grow from that failure.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 06 SEC Championship Game - Alabama v Missouri Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Today we finish with the special teams unit’s most criticized group — those kickers. Saban and kickers, amirite? By this point, it has become a trope.

Despite some well-publicized whiffs (of which we do not and shall not speak), Alabama’s kicking game under Nick Saban hasn’t been abysmal, and it’s certainly nothing that would require trotting out the media’s favorite dog-eared phrase “kicking woes.” In fact, in most years, Alabama’s placekicking actually resides somewhere between average-to-pretty good.

It is the comparisons that are damning the kickers here — When every other unit on the field is stacked with blue chips consistently performing the impossible, it is the merely “good” play that gets overlooked...and heavily criticized.

Today, we pay homage to some of Alabama’s best (and usually wrongly critized) over the last decade.

LOS, Cole Mazza

The No. 1 long-snapping recruit out of California didn’t have long to wait to see the field following the graduation of Carson Tinker. From Day One, Mazza was penciled in as a starter and never even thought about relinquishing that role.

For his career, snapping on every Alabama kick, Mazza didn’t so much as bobble or misplay one of them in his 583 opportunities. After going undrafted, and then wandering around a bit in the minors, Mazza finally got his shot with the whatever they call themselves now Chargers last fall. He proceeded to win the starting job, resigned with the Bolts, and is now almost $2 million dollars richer for his efforts.

Never earned an All-American bid; never got selected All-SEC; didn’t even get drafted. Life is hard out here for a long snapper.

Punter, PJ Fitzgerald

It is impossible not to love the physical, do-it-all punter from South Florida. Fitgerald was involved in a little bit of everything: Play-fakes, leveling return men, holding PATs, being a gym rat, and of course, winning the field position war with an above-average leg. Whereas J.K. Scott is a nearly-flawless, emotionless punting machine and nothing-but, Fitzgerald’s fire was one couldn’t be contained. There aren’t many chest-pumping, helmet-slapping, high-fiving, form-tackling, smack-talking hype-men in the kicking game. But it just so happens PJ was one of those rarities.

Following a redshirt year in 2007, PJ averaged over 41 yards a kick under Nick Saban in ‘08 and ‘09. However, as we wrote here frequently last year, YPA is the least useful statistic in all of punting. Net yards are good — and the Tide strives for 38.0 YPA net, but getting a directional kick that assists the coverage team, and pinning opponents inside the 20, are far more important in Alabama’s special teams scheme.

PJ never made an All-SEC team and didn’t even dream of sniffing an All-American team, but Alabama coaching staff thought highly enough of him to give him seven separate Special Teams POTW honors, because in ways small and memorable, he was a lot of fun to watch. And that’s high praise for a punter, indeed.

And he still roasts guys.

Adam Griffith, Placekicker

Poor Adam.

We’ve written about this guy on several occasions — defending him, usually. But, Adam Griffith was more than the highs and lows of two divergent Iron Bowl outcomes.

He began his career as a goat, grew into an effective placekicker, and then graduated as a very good one. And, aside from Tua Tagovailoa, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Alabama freshman who was put under more pressure in an almost impossible moment.

Griffith’s story is the kind that we love around here — it’s a redemption story. And you should know by now, I’m a sucker for those regular guys doing irregular things; the forgotten faces; the people that had the gumption to get off the mat and try again. As a freshman, Adam did not rise to the occasion — the moment was too big, his leg not quite big enough. But, over the coming years, and especially as a senior, that soft alloy that was Adam Griffith would become tempered through adversity and emerge well-honed from the experience.

That’s the beauty of college sports. That’s what it means to watch these kids grow. And, I think that’s what will always draws me to Adam Griffith’s career arc.

For his career, Griffith was a ten-time coach’s POTW, a two-time SEC POTW, and eventually graduated as a hard-earned and well-deserved second-team All-SEC selection. And that redemption story began on a night when Alabama needed him desperately; and it began with another improbable kick attempt.

Simply an awesome moment. Thanks, Adam.

Ed. Note: I have a couple of shorts and features to finish up over the next week or so. The hope is to get defense begun early next week sometime. But, it may not be until Thursday. So, I’ll go ahead and create a hub for all of these offensive and special team selections, and then I’ll pin that on the front page. In the meanwhile, enjoy.